3

In the story I'm writing one character suffers from amnesia as a result of an accident. I want another character, with whom they were in love, to tell about their past in order to help regain their memory.

How could I write these scenes without falling into an info-dump, or without resorting to very long (one-sided) dialogues?

  • Welcome to Writing.SE Starfire. Please check out our tour and help center. We don't do brainstorming or requests for ideas here. You're basically asking us to outline your story for you. Only you can do that. Feel free to stick around, read a bunch, answer some questions. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jun 24 at 0:12
  • 1
    Hi, I edited your question. It is a big edit. I hope I did not completely change its scope. Feel free to revert. – NofP Jun 25 at 8:31
  • Is the character amnesiac when the reader first meets them? – F1Krazy Jun 25 at 9:42
  • 1
    Yay, hero edit @NofP, I voted to re-open. It's a good trope to unpack, hopefully more open votes will allow new answers…. In the meantime, movie amnesia doesn't exist – you can still use the trope in a story of course, but it is a writer-manufactured dilemma so you are not stuck with those movie amnesia "rules"…. If the question re-opens I'll have an answer. – wetcircuit Jun 25 at 10:00
  • 1
    Don't write them. Go-to solutions are to either (1, "literary") use reported speech and inject some emotion into it, or (2, "cinematic") end the scene on a cliffhanger of sorts as the other character starts talking and then summarize. – aniline Jun 25 at 11:27
4

We can't brainstorm on this site--so your question may be closed. But, my answer in the meantime is go ahead and write it all out. Don't worry about info dumping yet.

Then, prune it back. Convert some of it from his dialog to her remembering. Put some of it into narrative, the things he wouldn't tell her, leave out a lot of it.

But go ahead and write it, because once it's there you have something you can improve.

4

In a sense, you're trying to fight your own structure here. Long, one-sided dialogues are built into the concept of one person telling a shared history to another. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

In a movie, there's a big difference between someone telling a story, and the movie showing you the story, visually. But in a book, all "showing" is really telling. What you're really looking at here is starting with a frame story, and then your non-amnesiac character becomes the new first-person narrator of the portions of the book that take place in the past.

Many books are structured this way. The Way Through Doors is a series of stories told to a woman in a coma, by a would-be suitor who invents a fantastic narrative for them to share. The Arabian Nights is presented as a series of stories invented by a woman to placate her murderous spouse. There are numerous other examples. The way to keep it from being just an info-dump is to make the internal stories interesting and complete narratives in their own right.

3

Warning: frame challenge ahead!

Movie Amnesia isn't real

There is no actual medical condition where people lose their self-identity, but are otherwise healthy and without neurological damage.

Actual amnesia is sadly, just brain damage. People remember who they are, but they can't process new memories. There is no cure (definitely not a 2nd conk on the noggin), and it's permanent.

  • Disclaimer: none of this is medical advice, I'm not a doctor, and pretend I have written "usually" and "most often" in all of these sentences.

Interesting uses of "realistic" amnesia are the film Memento (2000), and an episode of Star Trek:TNG. Both use the main character's ongoing memory loss as a plot device that resets the character to square one.

Movie Amnesia is better than real

Unlike real amnesia Movie amnesia is understood by just about everybody. Since it was invented by writers it works exactly like deus ex machina.

That means it works as needed for the plot or emotional payoff. The amnesiac only loses what you want them to lose – like the specific memory that:

she isn't actually married to this guy, or that she was a Manchurian Candidate assassin, or she's just a housewife from NJ and not Madonna.

Probably the best "feature" of movie amnesia is that the character is a blank slate with a mystery past. TVtropes has a remarkable number of amnesia variations listed under Memory Tropes. (This one really is a time suck, you have been warned). Movie amnesia justifies major plot holes and keeps unlikely characters together. It's used so often, and so outlandishly, it might be anti-climatic to use it "just" for emotional feels (outside of a soap opera where an old relationship got written into a corner and needs a deus ex machina reset).

What is the character dynamic?

You've given us no perspective on these people, their stakes, their chemistry, their interrupted lives, or how everything has changed. What is important? What is their dynamic? These are the things that will make the scene work.

Consider the perspective of the amnesiac – are they skeptical, suspicious, confused? Hopefully they are not a doe-eyed sponge absorbing an infodump telling them "This is who you are." That's a scenario for gaslighting and psychological thrillers.

The mate is trying to pull memories out, not put them in. Depending on how long they've been together, and the amnesiac's close call, they may be doting, anxious, even impatient/angry. This character may be the more pro-active in the scene, but they don't have the power to actually solve the problem so this might be a real test of their character to adjust to the new situation (real life relationships rarely survive a radical change in dynamics).

One character has just experienced a loss and is at the end of their relationship, the other has just been born (renewed?) and is at the beginning of a new friendship. This is a character-rich situation with tons of dramatic potential.

If for some reason the scene is really just about one person retelling a bunch of events that happened in the past, all this dramatic potential is wasted. The amnesiac might as well be in a coma (or in the grave) if they are not an active participant with their own stakes.

Figure out the current dynamic between them and tell that story, the infodump is just what's on the surface. We should be seeing awkwardness and desperation and hope – but also we should be seeing a couple who "meets cute on a date" so we have a reason to care what happens to them, and see there is still a spark there.

  • 2
    There are in fact quite a few types of amnesia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amnesia#Types Movie Amnesia, however, indeed isn't real. That was my first thought too. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jun 26 at 10:59
  • Part of the reason movie amnesia is compelling is that it closely resembles dream amnesia, the common dreamworld experience of living in a scenario with no conscious memory of who you actually are or how you got to the place where you find yourself. – Chris Sunami Jun 26 at 14:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.